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Off-the-grid Bungalow in Southern California


Literally in the shadow of 230-kilovolt power lines, this 850-square-foot bungalow is completely off the grid.  15 solar panels and 16 big batteries supply all the power needed to run the house and the detached 350-square-foot woodshop.  No wires or pipes come to the property.

Living on the site in my 16-foot vintage travel trailer (once featured in the Tiny House Newsletter), I designed the buildings, supervised construction, and did some of the finish work.

Being a retired guy, I named the place Sábado – Spanish for Saturday – because Saturday is the happiest day of the week, and retirement is the Saturday of life.  You work all week, and when you get to Saturday, you get to do whatever you like!

Solar power, well water, and a septic system make Sábado self-sufficient (with a little help from a propane tank and satellite internet… )

Sixteen deep-cycle batteries keep the lights on at night. The sun shines most days here in San Diego County, but a rarely-needed generator provides backup.

Yes, that’s a wheelbarrow in the corner.  A trick I learned from the contractors, a wheelbarrow makes a great “redneck recliner.” Had to have one.  It will get painted a bright color with varnished “legs” and custom-made cushions.  It’s on the to-do list…

Primary heat comes from the wood stove, but I also have a heat-pump “mini-split,” that provides both auxiliary heat and air conditioning, and it’s very kind to my batteries. Bonus for a solar house: when it’s hot outside, the sun is usually shining…

Guest bedroom/study

Barn-door closet in the master bedroom

All of the doors in the house will get this shellac-and-gel-stain finish. The next thing on the list of things I signed up to do.

Retro bathroom

Laundry

Even an attic in the rear half of the house. (That’s Molly supervising from the bedroom.)

{ 74 comments… add one }
  • Avatar Brian

    Wow, really nice. Beautiful wood working and cabinet making too. Well done, sir.

  • Avatar Beth Grant DeRoos

    WOW!!! That is beautiful and amazing!!

  • Avatar Cate

    Absolutely stunning! You, sir, did a wonderful job and it being off grid is the icing on the cake! And Molly looks just like my Teddy 🙂

    • Avatar Sabado

      Molly’s my best girl! And yes, my favorite day of the month is the day the electric bill DOESN’T come! 🙂

  • Avatar Lara

    Really love it !! WELL DONE! How great to have such handy skills!!

    • Avatar Sabado

      Thanks Lara. I’ve been piddling around with wood for about 50 years.

      • Avatar Lara

        Sabado,

        How did you learn to make bread in a cast iron dutch oven?

        Your house/cottage is a shining example of how nice living more simply and modestly can be !! It is a gem!!

        Thanks for sharing all the pics and the floor plans as well !!

        • Avatar Sabado

          Oh my gosh Lara, it’s so simple… there are several articles on the web about what they call “5-minute artisan bread.” You just mix up flour, salt, and yeast with some water and let it sit overnight, then just shape it into a ball and drop it into a pre-heated dutch oven and cook for about an hour. That’s it! And it’s so good… Here’s one of the variations:
          http://www.motherearthnews.com/real-food/no-knead-dutch-oven-bread-recipe-zmaz07djzgoe

        • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

          Yum! I love making homemade bread 🙂

        • Avatar Lara

          Sabado,

          Thanks for sending me the link for making bread in a dutch oven! So appreciated…it sounds yummy and relatively easy!!

          Best of luck–and enjoy your gorgeous cottage !!

  • Just wonderful! It is just what I want when I can finally retire!

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

      Yay! Glad you found inspiration!

    • Avatar Sabado

      I wish the best for you Margaret. A happy retirement is one of the great joys of life.

  • Avatar Diana

    Ok, did they build an off grid home next to EMF power lines? If so, WHY???? Beautiful build. Not a tiny home.

  • Avatar Annette

    Hats off to you – this is gorgeous!

  • Avatar Lara Concepcion

    How many square feet is it? I love it!!

    • Avatar Sabado

      Lara, the county measures from the outside of the walls, so for permit purposes, it was 888 square feet. Actual living area is closer to 850, not counting the attic, which is unfinished storage space.

  • Very charming and wonderful modern touches…….how very nice!!!

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

      I agree!

    • Avatar Sabado

      Thanks Vee, when you design it yourself you get what you want – a bit of the old, a bit of the new… It’s great to be living now, when we can combine 1910 charm with a dishwasher!

  • Avatar Canyon Man

    Very nice. This is a true home. Tiny or not, it has dignity.

    • Avatar Sabado

      Thanks Canyon Man. The nice thing about Tiny House Talk is that they celebrate “small houses” as well as “tiny houses.” Both are sensible alternatives to the McMansion and the crippling mortgage.

  • Avatar lesa

    This is exactly what I am looking to !
    I commend your marvelous work and inspiration. I wondered
    where it was in the county; Descanso, Dulzura, maybe even Warner Springs – before reading Campo. Beautiful work and thank you for sharing.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

      I’m so glad you liked it 🙂

    • Avatar Sabado

      Thanks Lesa, I’m glad you liked it too. And yes, Campo – 3000 feet elevation with hundreds of oak trees. Great area.

  • Avatar kristina nadreau

    Perfect for you. all the woodworking is spectacular. color choices also pleasant.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

      Yes I also enjoyed the color choices!

    • Avatar Sabado

      Thanks Kristina and Natalie. The main color is called “Arts and Crafts Gold.” Because the house is small, most of the rooms are the same color, to avoid making it look choppy. The kitchen and bath share a different color called “Sonoma Chardonnay” and the ceilings are “Creamed Butter.” Sometimes you gotta choose colors just based on the cool names! 🙂

    • Avatar Sabado

      Oh, and the idea of the dark green exterior was to blend in with all the oak trees. There are many on this 5-acre property. The name of the color is Olive-something, but I call it Forest Service Cabin Green…!

  • Avatar Nanny M

    One of the nicest I’ve seen. Don’t know that I would change anything.

    • Avatar Sabado

      Thanks, Nanny M. There’s only one thing I would change: painting the baseboards and door trim in a velvet (almost flat) sheen… big mistake. Huge. A real pain to keep clean. Other’n that.. I’m pretty content!

  • Avatar Sandi B

    Beautiful home and workshop. Great woodworking! The only thing I would change would be to swap the size of the kitchen and the living room.
    Beautiful hideaway. May God Bless you with many wonderful years here!

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

      That’s a great idea!

    • Avatar Sabado

      You must really like to cook! I’m trying to learn. You may have noticed I don’t have a microwave. Lately I’ve been baking artisan bread in a cast iron dutch oven. Not that difficult, but definitely yummy.

      • Avatar Sandi B

        Yes, I do really like to cook/bake — it is and has always been my passion. Home baked bread is always yummie — well, unless you burn it.

  • Avatar ZACHARY E MOHRMANN

    I love this guys house,…! I love it’s ability to be a stand alone structure, powered through solar power and heated and cooled with the efficiency of a mini split system … The house exterior is just beautiful, and to carry that style over to his detached shop was a cherry on top of his Saturday, ” LoL…! ” sorry I just couldn’t help my self… But really it is a beautiful build a well thought out design, and I only wish I had done something like this years ago when I had opportunity…! Bravo…!

    • Avatar Sabado

      A cherry on top of my Saturday.. love it! Might just have to steal that from you Zachary. Thanks!

      • Avatar ZACHARY E MOHRMANN

        Hay any time…!

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

      He did a great job!

  • Avatar Sabado

    Hah! Miss Molly might have something to say about that… 🙂

  • Avatar Sabado

    Well Keep, I’d be interested in seeing the scientific proof you’re referring to, because I think about the only people who are still saying that living near power lines is dangerous are companies who sell “miracle” devices called GeoResonators that supposedly reverse the effect for only $89.95 (you need four).

    The EMF scare probably began with a 1979 study associating power lines with childhood leukemia, but that study and even later ones “failed to clarify whether the observed association is causal or coincidental.”

    According to the Environmental Protection Agency “There is no clear scientific evidence that electromagnetic fields affect health.”

    In 1999 the National Academy of Sciences stated that “The current body of evidence does not show that exposure to these fields presents a human health hazard… it now appears even less likely that MFs [magnetic fields] in the normal domestic or occupational environment produce important health effects, including cancer.”

    The National Institutes of Health says: “studies that have been conducted on adults show no evidence of a link between EMF exposure and adult cancers, such as leukemia, brain cancer, and breast cancer.”

    A white paper by Richard Wilson, Department of Physics at Harvard University goes into great detail in debunking the myth of power lines causing cancer.

    I could go on and on, but this Forbes article sums up the discussion pretty clearly:
    https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevensalzberg/2014/09/01/do-high-voltage-power-lines-cause-cancer/#701399df6497

    Of course there are those who believe that the NIH, the EPA and even Harvard are just parts of a vast governmental conspiracy (no doubt responsible for the disappearance of those space aliens from Roswell), and those folks probably should stay away from power lines, especially when they’re wearing their little tinfoil hats! 🙂

    So I think I’ll stay and take my chances. And by the way, Sábado is not for sale.

    Respectfully,
    Gary

  • Avatar Sabado

    … and keepyourpower, aren’t you the one who asked if I needed a roommate? 🙂

  • Avatar Patricia

    Sabado, this is an absolutely perfect small home and my husband and I love it. Except for a few tweaks, because I am disabled (like a walk-in bathtub), there is nothing we would change if this were our home—except build it out here in our beautiful Colorado. We so appreciate that it is off-the-grid but has all the modern appliances and the woodwork in the kitchen is beautiful. We especially like the screened-in porch off the Master Bedroom and Dining Room.

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful labor of love with all of us.

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

      I’m so glad you enjoyed this, Patricia 🙂

  • Avatar AVD

    When you are living within the power-leakage glow of those high-power lines, why invest so much money in solar panels. Just harvest the electrical aura leakage from the high-power transmission lines.

    Or, if you are really brave, do like the folks in 3rd world countries and shoot a heavy gauge conductive wire over the transmission lines and steal all of the free-juice you may want. Just don’t touch the wire.

    • Avatar Halekini

      Probably wouldn’t be a very good idea to plug my vacuum cleaner into 500,000 volts…

  • Avatar Sarah

    Wow, I love so many things about this house! I have been wanting to paint my townhouse yellow, wondered if it would be overpowering, but this is bright and fun. Love it! Love the arch. Love the bathroom floor. The wood. The clock. The fireplace. Your philosophy of life. When was I moving in again? LOL! Great stuff!

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

      It’s always good to see a color “work” on a house. I always get nervous with colors!

  • Avatar Rusty

    I love your home, the size is perfect, off the grid spells freedom, the nook and porch are wonderful. Blessings for many years of happy Sabados.

  • Thanks Rusty!

  • The house is a beauty , but the proximity to the 25 kw wires is hell …

    • Avatar Sabado

      Thanks Platon. The power lines are actually 200 feet away, and if you read my long April 10 reply above, you’ll see that the fear of power lines has been largely debunked by the National Institutes of Health, Harvard, etc.

  • Avatar Vicki Frakes

    Love your home. Love all your cabinets and floor plan. Great job

  • Avatar Liz

    Why are there so many VERY cool houses and why am I not living in one of them?

    • Natalie C. McKee Natalie C. McKee

      Haha 🙂 Check out our for sale section and find the perfect one 🙂

  • Avatar Paula B Brady

    Having lived on my boat off and on since 1997 it’s time for a change. I’m in the process of looking for land in San Diego/Riverside County and building a Tiny House. Did you have many problems with permits? How deep is your well?

    • Hi Paula,

      It took 7 months to get the permit, largely because I did the plans myself. Needed input from an architect, an environmental engineer, and a structural engineer before I was done, because the county considers Campo an extreme wind and extreme fire area. So I had to have professionals sign off that the house was structurally sound.

      My well is 400 feet deep, found water at 35o, and hung the pump at 360. I get 10 gallons per minute.

      If you can live on a boat, you’ll feel positively luxurious in a little house!

      Cheers,
      Gary

      • Avatar Wiz Zard

        We are also in SD County, looking to build our in East County and do EXACTLY as you did! Would you be willing to share the plans so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel, lol!

  • Avatar Diane

    Beautifully done. You really did see to all of the details in this build. I wish I knew more about solar. I have a cargo truck I am working on here and have no idea how expensive it is and who to call to brainstorm the installation. I live in a big house and the cargo truck had been on the property as storage. With the development all around me it got to be impossible to get it out again so I made the best of it and turned it into a cute tiny house. Now to add power and lights just not sure what I will do.
    Diane Gray Scottsdale

    • Hi Diane,
      Is the cargo truck very far from the main house? You could have an electrician bury a wire from the house to the truck for a lot less than solar would cost. The wires going to my well and the Woodshop are just buried in plastic conduit a couple of feet underground.

    • Avatar Sandi B

      Diane:

      You do not say if you are planning to travel with your cargo truck, but I am assuming that you are and that you would want to utilize solar while traveling. Which is a different animal that what would be utilized in a permanent structure on a foundation. I do not know if you are familiar with a free (or it use to be) RV camp so-to-speak known as Slab City or the Slabs for short. It is an old military base torn down some time ago near the city of Niland, California in the Imperial Valley close to the border there between California and Arizona. There is a solar company located in Niland that works mainly with RV’s. The fellow is there mostly through the winter as that is when the slabs fill up with “snowbirds” for the winter. The company is called Niland, Ca Solar. Their web address is: http://www.powertownsolar.com/california/imperial-county/niland. They have a form on their site that you can fill out for information or you can call (844) 769-3721. It has been awhile since I talked with him, but I had received quite a few referrals to him at the time. He would be able to give you the ins and outs as regards solar for an RV. There are also now available smaller and more flexible, think roll up, solar panels. You cost in a solar system is in the panels and largely in the batteries. You need to be sure how much power you will use in a 24 hour period so include your appliances as well as “toys”, you know computers and such. If you deal with your solar during your build on your cargo truck it will be much less costly and more efficient than if you try to put one in after the fact. Good luck to you and let me know how it goes. If you want to be off-grid livable do not forget large water storage tanks and a composting toilet — I would recommend the Sepratist — you can google it. Have fun with your build.

  • Avatar Laura

    What a lovely house! I’m a goner for the Craftsman style and bungalows. The kitchen cabinets are perfection! Did you make them yourself? Congratulations on a job VERY well done! Enjoy every Sabado in your excellent home!

  • Avatar Marji Majewski

    Well done! I am so jealous!

  • Just beautiful.

  • Avatar CSB

    Beautifully crafted Craftsman! Love those cabinets! Sabado, actually means Sabbath. Which is what the seventh day is! So Happy Sabbath to you in your great little home.

  • Avatar Val

    Sweet!

  • Avatar Wiz Zard

    We’re looking at doing the exact same weekend retreat in east SD County! Would you consider sharing your plans so we dont have to reinvent the wheel? Thanks so much!

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